A Sad Anniversary Celebration

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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Obama talk to the nation from the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan, Tuesday night.

It’s sad that what should be a day of quiet satisfaction – the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, the killer of nearly 3,000 innocents – has degenerated into a political spitball fight.

Battleland well remembers Jimmy Carter’s failed mission to rescue the U.S. hostages held by Iran’s government in Tehran 30 years aqo. It led to some serious soul-searching, and ultimately — over the Pentagon’s objections — to the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command.


A generation later, that command helped lead the raid that got bin Laden. For those of us who covered the loss of eight brave Americans at Desert One on April 24, 1980, the Abbottabad mission was a bold exclamation point on all the work that had been done to fix, more or less, what the Iranian fiasco exposed.

(MORE: Cover Story: The Last Days of Osama bin Laden)

President Obama spoke to the nation early Wednesday from the main U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan. He said the right things about troops, and sacrifice, before jarringly channeling his inner Reagan:

As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America. An America where our children live free from fear, and have the skills to claim their dreams. A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.

This whiff of politics should not be emanating from Bagram, from where most of the 1,957 U.S. troops killed in the war have begun their lonely journey home. Both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have soiled the memory of last year’s mission – and by implication, those eight who perished in the Iranian desert – with their petty and self-pleasuring high-fives on how they handled, or would have handled, the challenges associated with getting the mastermind terrorist.


Their wrangling seems even more pointless following Tuesday’s release of the congressionally-mandated, semi-annual report detailing how well — or not — things are going in Afghanistan. It makes for bleak reading. It warns of “both long-term and acute challenges” — Pakistan’s sanctuaries, Taliban resilience, Afghan corruption — that are unlikely to disappear before most U.S. and allied troops head home over the next 30 months.

(PHOTOS: Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan Hideaway)

“I do worry a great deal that this time of year that somehow this gets spun into election politics,” retired admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told NBC. “I can assure you that those individuals who risk their lives–the last thing in the world that they want is to be spun into that.”

But despite Mullen’s claim, some Navy SEALs also are mixing politics, patriotism and partisanship. They’re apparently taking after their commander-in-chief, and his rival. Ryan Zinke, a Navy SEAL-turned-GOP-state-senator from Montana, told the British Daily Mail newspaper that Obama is trying to use bin Laden’s death as a lever to win a second term. “The President and his administration are positioning him as a war president using the SEALs as ammunition,” he said. “It was predictable.”

Eight guys didn’t get to watch the President’s speech last night from Bagram, or Romney’s claim that killing bin Laden was such an easy call that “even Jimmy Carter” — who ordered a far tougher mission, against far longer odds — “would have given that order.”

Air Force Major Richard L. Bakke, Marine Sergeant John D. Harvey, Marine Corporal George N. Holmes Jr., Marine Staff Sergeant Dewey L Johnson, Air Force Major Harold L Lewis Jr., Air Force Technical Sergeant Joel C. Mayo, Air Force Major Lyn D. McIntosh, and Air Force Captain Charles T. McMillan, could well be wondering if they made the ultimate sacrifice only so a President, and his challenger, could bicker over their graves on who has more guts.

PHOTOS: The U.S. Department of Defense Releases Video of Osama bin Laden